The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 110 potential cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. Five Americans have already been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of respiratory illness has been ongoing since December 2019.
Confirmed cases have been reported in Washington, Arizona, California and Illinois, where a Chicagoan in her 60s became the second confirmed case of the virus in the U.S.
“We understand that many people in the United States are worried about this virus and how it will affect Americans,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC’s national center for immunization and respiratory diseases, in a Monday morning press call. “At this time in the U.S., the virus is not spreading in the community, and for that reason we believe the immediate health risk to the general American public is low at this time.”
The number of patients under investigation for the disease has nearly doubled from the 63 reported by the CDC late last week. Of the 110 patients total, 32 have tested negative for the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC. “This is a rapidly changing situation both here and abroad – 16 international locations, including the U.S., have identified cases,” Messonnier said.
In China, 81 people have died from the novel coronavirus and 2,750 have been infected with it, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. health officials have screened approximately 2,400 people returning from Wuhan since they began screening passengers at five airports, including O’Hare International Airport, last week. While officials are considering broadening airport screenings, Messonnier declined to provide additional details.
CDC recommends travelers avoid all non-essential travel to Wuhan and the Hubei province in central China. All those traveling to China should avoid contact with sick people, animals, animal markets and products that come from animals, such as uncooked meat, according to the CDC. Travelers should wash their hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. The CDC also advises travelers discuss their plans with their health care provider.
Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses that range from the common cold to more serious illnesses, like SARS and MERS, and are generally spread via droplets in the air when people cough or sneeze, as happens with the common cold, according to officials. Symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is no treatment or vaccine for the virus.
If patients aren’t showing symptoms, they likely aren’t contagious, health officials say. “We at the CDC don’t have any clear evidence of patients being infectious prior to symptom onset,” Messonnier said. “We are being aggressive and cautious of tracking the close contacts of (patients) identified as confirmed cases that are ill. So far there (has been) no human-to-human transmission in the United States.”
Anyone who becomes sick with a fever, cough or has difficulty breathing within two weeks of traveling to China should seek medical care, according to the CDC. Patients should contact their doctor instead of going to a hospital, so health care providers can take proper precautions. Patients should also avoid contact with other people, cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and wash their hands frequently, according to the CDC.
During the media call, Messonnier also addressed concerns about the possibility of the virus being spread via products shipped from China. “There is no evidence to support the spread (of the novel coronavirus) with imported goods,” Messonnier said. That’s because the virus can only survive on surfaces for a few hours, she added. “There (have been) no cases in the United States associated with imported goods.”
For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website.
The Associated Press contributed.